A few years ago my husband’s father sent him a YouTube video that featured the largest model train exhibit in the world. The exhibit is called “Miniatur Wunderland” and it’s in Hamburg, Germany.
My husband watched the video, showed me, and then said “Wow, that’s amazing. I’d really like to go there someday with dad.”
After we moved to London, going to Miniatur Wunderland was now much more possible than ever before – and we added it to the do-to list.
Rich’s dad, Greg, has spent lots of time here with us… probably more than anyone else. He came along and helped us with our initial move over. Stayed for three months. Then came back when we had to change houses and stayed for a few weeks again.
And he is just the BIGGEST help to us.
But we were just too overwhelmed and overloaded to go to Miniatur Wunderland during those times. When it was arranged that Rich’s parents were coming this year for the kids’ half-term break, it became apparent that this was the time to make it happen.
And there was absolutely no argument or negotiation.
Rich just matter-of-factly said “This is happening, now.”
So… off we went to work it out.
In order to book affordable flights, we booked with the budget airline that flies out at the airport over an hour’s drive away. And in order to make the most of our time – and hopefully visit Miniatur Wunderland on the same day that we fly – we booked the early morning flight out. This meant we needed to leave the house at 4:30AM.
We don’t normally do such a thing. But for this particular time/day/destination flying out of Stansted Airport costed £56/person. Flying out of Heathrow or Gatwick costed £136/person. We’ve got 6 people to fly.
£56 x 6 = £336
£136 x 6 = £816
Even after we pay for very expensive cab service to the airport – right around £140 per car per way, we still come out way ahead. Plus, it’s sooo LUX for us. Not to be schlepping all our bags and all our kids around the sidewalk and up and down the stairs and the stations and on and off the trains to the airport.
Ahhh, there’s something to it. Not usually our best or cheapest option.
But this time is was and it was so so sweet.
Kids rolled out of bed, we made it to airport, through security and right on to our plane smoothly and in good spirits and really excited.
As soon as we get seated the captain comes on and announces that “Because of the lighting storms through the night, yada yada….. something about the fuel….. and we don’t have fuel for the plane. Apologize. So we’re on a little bit of a delay.”
And I was like, ok that’s fine. Expected, really. The kids are good, everyone is fed, we can use the plane bathroom. We’re good.
And we sat inside that plane on the runway for THREE MORE HOURS.
I understand that there are storms and delays and things get backed up and it’s impossible to recover. But I’m still not sure, why, in this situation they went ahead and boarded us. The only explanation is that they underestimated our wait. It could have been miserable, but all things considered, it really wasn’t that bad. In fact, I was impressed with my children. Plus it was good practice. Since our move over, we’ve never taken them on a flight over 2 hours. Like I said – they were all freshly fed, watered, with access to a potty and full charges on the ipads and lots of fresh stickers.
Remove any of those factors and it could’ve gotten really ugly.
But still, it’s nice to know they can handle it.
This flight itself to Hamburg is only a little over an hour. So once we finally did take off it seemed like we were instantly back down and ready to land.
We took public transit to our hotel, and in the process we definitely got a little turned around. But we made it in a fair amount of time.
Our hotel was beautiful – just a Holiday Inn Express, but seriously immaculate.
We were able to rest a little bit. Viv fell asleep.We had been up since 4AM, after all.
Rich was able to move back our Miniatur Wunderland tickets, and we even had time to grab a meal at a nearby McDonald’s. Our favorite! So, even though that huge delay put a real damper on our day, I think we still salvaged it.
We took a quick cab from McDonalds to Miniatur Wunderland to save time and hassle. From there we just breezed right on in.
Before we booked this, I have to be honest, I was very lukewarm. Like, I know that it was a big deal for Rich and I really knew the kids would like it. But, since it’s not my thing really… “I’ll be impressed if I’m impressed” was all I could think.
I mean, for a train novice like me, how awesome can model trains be?
First off, it’s huge. I knew it would be huge. In some of these pictures you can sort of tell how big it is. Behind us (in the pictures below) you can see back through the open space. And this is one floor, out of two.
And for me it was something that you have to observe, and let it soak in for a little bit to really appreciate. Something about the scale of it that is impressive. The little tiny trains and the little tiny people, in the big giant space. Going on and on creating a real miniature world. With INCREDIBLE detail and fun surprises. So many thoughtful and clever details.
Moutains, cities, bridges, train depots, airports, bays, rivers, deserts, snow-land, an amazing volcano!, on and on…
Mini models of Hamburg, Las Vegas, Venice, Rome…
In every section, it would turn from day to night, and you could appreciate the scene in a whole new way.
The big scenes were impressive, but it was the little details that got me.
Like a little pet daycare I found.
And an underground lair to plan “World Domination”
The blue crystal Elfin Hollow
To the outdoor evening market.
And this poster of glue categories that I feel like could only exist in Germany.
I also really appreciated, that between each section they let us get a peek at the inner workings. We also had full access to see the control center where they monitor the trains and all the cameras on all the tracks. And for some reason, I don’t have a picture of that. But it was cool.
Speaking of cameras… and tracks…. we had a little incident while we were there.
Because of course we did.
When we went to McDonalds, we got little Happy Meal toys. The current toy in Hamburg Germany is a small National Geographic stuffed animal. Which by the way could not be more perfect for us at this time. It’s like the lord himself made McDonalds have these perfectly suited toys for my children while I was on this trip.
That’s how it feels.
Normally, my kids don’t really like the happy meal toys. But not these toys. They love these. Especially Finn – who EVERYONE knows is our animal lover. I’m talking BIG TIME animal lover. He knows all the facts and all the science. He loves every single moose and otter and ant. And he’s very sensitive about the killing of them.
He cries and cries forever. With real feelings.
Like, as in, we can’t even swat at flies in his presence anymore and we have to pray over the bee that I had to kill in his room and we have to catch and release any spiders we find in the house instead of giving them a good old squish. It’s gotten pretty serious and we’ve just – all of us – walked around him on this one, because what else are we going to do? Have him bawl-a-fit every time we swat a fly? Not really. Even little Theo knows, it’s best just to take the go-around, and not stomp on the bugs outside.
So, back to train world. Finn had gotten a very special manta ray at McDonalds in his happy meal. He wanted to carry it around train world.
I advised otherwise.
And in most of the pictures above, he is holding his little manta ray.
Three quarters of the way through the visit, Finn and I were perched up on a little balcony taking in the beautiful view of down below, when wouldn’t you know it – he drops his manta ray INTO THE EXHIBIT.
And not just INTO THE EXHIBIT, but right smack onto a train track.
I mean, right on it.
He shakes my arm “Mom, I dropped my ray.”
Him “Mom I dropped my ray in the train.” and begins to panic.
I finally realize what he’s saying, scan the exhibit and find his ray. It’s on the track.
Maybe it’s just a decoy track or something.
Here comes a train.
Oh man… this is gonna be bad. There no way I can fish it out. There’s nothing I – or anyone – can do.
Train comes, hits the manta ray.
So now we’ve got double bad. First bad because he lost his manta ray.
And second bad because he’s now caused a train-murder of his manta ray.
And bonus triple bad – because now I’m afraid that we’ve somehow stopped the whole exhibit and some train worker is going to have to crawl in there and get his manta ray off the track.
And it’s going to be really embarrassing, and we don’t speak German, and I don’t know… are they going to yell and kick us out?
I mean, I’m sure he’s not the only person to drop something into the exhibit. Right??
They have millions of visitors per year.
Pretty sure he can’t be the first or only one.
And that I’m not the first distracted mom…. right?
Finn starts wailing. We wait for a little bit for someone to come along. But no one ever does. I usher him away from the scene. Half trying to comfort him, half afraid that we’re going to get a serious scolding.
I take him over to the “airport” and he recovers remarkably fast all things considered. And when we walked back by the scene of the crime, the manta was still in the exhibit, just to the side of the track. The train had somehow finally pushed it’s way through.
And Finn was sad, but realized there wasn’t much to be done. He didn’t want to push – same as me – for fear of getting in trouble with the workers, I think.
So he let it go and moved on with a promise that Grandma would let him pick something out in the gift shop.
Which he did.
Overall, I have to admit, I was impressed.
It’s the number five tourist attraction in Germany for a reason.
The Germans love their trains, and that’s apparent here. I think anyone who visits could be, at least, a little bit enthused.
Hundreds of thousands of hours of work and love. Millions of dollars.
A work of art.
Even someone like me can appreciate it.
Afterwards there were no cabs waiting outside, and we struggled to find a cab option – it was a very quiet part of town on a Sunday evening.
The walk back to the hotel seemed simple enough – about 20 minutes, and it seemed our best option to get back. Even though we were all seriously exhausted, the directions were fairly simple, the weather was beautiful and we made it back safe and sound.
And here is Finn, happy, with his gift shop find – a new animal to carry around.
The kids ate some snacks, in lieu of solid dinner, and cashed out fairly soon.
And we all slept.
We leisurely woke up and ate our lovely continental breakfast; then checked out shortly after. Thank goodness we had the good sense to book an afternoon flight instead of morning.
A walk and a train back to the airport. We’re heading to Prague today!
Where we stayed: